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12Apr/12Off

Why not just rewire the rest of the house while we’re at it?

I'll admit my initial time estimate of six months was a little naive.  We're 12 months into the basement reno with at least 6 months left.  Partially, I just had no idea how long everything would take but also, we just keep adding projects to the list.  I hadn't initially planned on doing anything to the laundry room... then maybe we'd put in new flooring... maybe we'd take down the wall panels and frame it out... maybe we'd add a drywall ceiling... maybe we'd also tear up the floor and redo all the plumbing.  Suddenly doing nothing turned into this.

The bathroom was the same way.  The plan was to put in drains so we could add a bathroom in the future... but you need to buy a shower pan and vanity before you can rough plumb... and you need to frame before you can put in your shower pan... and you might as well drywall the bathroom at the same time... and you might as well do electrical at the same time... and then you've pretty much done all the work so why not just put some tile down and finish the thing?

And finally we had a little electrical scope creep.  One day we were at our pastor's house awing over his gorgeous basement - the kind where they excavated down to have higher ceilings, hardwood floors, and a home theater.  Drool.  He was telling me about all the work he did and how it consumed their whole house - even rewiring the main floor electrical while they still had the ceilings open in the basement.  And it hit me.  We needed to do that too.

Our electrical on the main floor is pitiful.  One circuit carries power to the lights and outlets to every room except the dining room and kitchen, all the outlets are ungrounded so we have to use little adapters that don't actually ground anything, there aren't enough outlets in any room, if we run more than one window AC the whole circuit dies, AND the wire that connects everything is a combination of 90-year-old knob and tube and 50-year-old armored cable - both of which are deteriorating.

With this new idea in my head, I decided it was now or never.  Either I rewire the first floor while the ceilings are open, or I put drywall up in the basement and forever hold my peace.  I pictured Mike Holmes'big arms pointing at me and saying, "If you're gonna do it, do it right!"  So doing nothing to the first floor turned into:

And that we did!  Katrina had spring break and I took a week off work.  A friend (thanks Peter!) took a couple days off and was a gigantic help as well.  Here's the plan if you're floor-plan-ally inclined.

The black outlets are existing outlets on separate circuits, we didn't touch these.  The green outlets are new outlets we added while yellow outlets are existing outlets we rewired.  The blue boxes are switches we added to the living room outlets, more on that in a minute.  The blue, green, and red lines represent wires on the three circuits we made.

We're happy with the way the plan turned out.  Each bedroom gets it's own circuit so the window AC units can run at the same time!  We added some outlets so the wiring is up to code but also because we wanted more outlets in useful places.  The two switches in the living room control the top plug in each of the outlets in that room.  That way we don't have to walk around the room turning on and off all our lamps.  First world problem, solved!

We wired everything with 12 gauge wire (thicker wire) so we can run 20 amps on each circuit.  While we could have combined everything into two circuits and still had enough power, we like the idea of separating the bedrooms and making sure we have plenty of juice for AC and computers or whatever else we may plug in one day.

We managed to get all this rewired in just a few days, here's how it went down.

Step 1 - Replace the electrical boxes

There are electrical codes for how large an electrical box needs to be based on the number of wires you're going to put in it.  Our old boxes were all too small so I had to rip/cut/yank them all out and cut larger holes for the new boxes.  I also cut new holes in the walls for the outlets we decided to add.  Here's what an old box looks like compared to the new ones.

Step 2 - Run new wire

This is the part where we got to cut holes in the ceiling joists in the basement and thread wires to all the electrical boxes.  The old boxes already had holes in the floor where the wire traveled from the basement into the walls on the first floor.  Those holes mad it easy to pull the new wires into the existing electrical boxes.  For the new outlets, we had to cut new holes in the ceiling from the basement, making sure the hole ended up in the wall cavity of the first floor.  Luck and good measurements were on our side, we hit wall cavities every time!

Step 3 - connect the wires and fold them into the boxes

We stripped the wires and made any connections we needed, then nicely push all the wires into the box.  This is how we are leaving the wires until the rough electrical inspection.

Step 4 - Cheat and connect the outlets before inspection

We decided we can't go without power to the living room for long and we can't get inspected until the basement wiring is all done, so we were good and left the bedroom wires at step 3 but were bad and connected everything up in the living room and dining room so we can have "temporary power" until the inspection.  I'm pretty sure the inspector will understand and we'll just shut off power and disconnect the outlets right before the inspector stops by.

We love knowing our outlets are grounded, tamper resistant, and safely wired, but the best part is getting to use the switch to turn on and off the lamps :)

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  1. oh, jeez. I want to do this, too. Does your house have a 2nd floor? Time to do that, too!

    My wife and I once decided that we wanted to paint the hallway in our last house. By the time we finished that project, we’d replaced three doors, rebuilt the chimney, and re-insulated the attic. Funny how projects just keep getting bigger.

    I want to do this in our house, too, but I don’t really want to replace the boxes… I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’d cut the old armored cables out and get the new wires in place without wrecking the walls….

    • We do have a second floor but it was converted from an attic in the early 90s so it has modern wiring :) Getting the old armored cable out is the easy part. They’re just held into the box by a nut – it kind of looks like a sprocket – that can be removed by hammering a flat head screw driver against the nut’s side. Once the nut is off the cable just falls out. The bigger problem with reusing the boxes is holding the new wires in place. With new construction you staple the wires next to the box but with old work you have to use a box that pinches the wire in the box to secure it. There are fittings that can clamp romex into the knockout (hole) in the existing electrical box but you’d have to clamp it onto the wire before you fish it through the wall… which would be hard, I think. There are all kinds of old work boxes that either clamp onto the drywall/paster from behind and I even found one that screws into a stud from inside the box. You’d just have to cut the nails off the old boxes with a hack saw or reciprocating saw. It’s a lot of work but honestly it wasn’t that hard of a project.

    • I am not an electrician, nor do I know the code rtrniqemeues where you live. Having said that, generally speaking it should not be difficult to extend a wire of at least the same guage to your new fixture. If it will be placed underground generally UG wire will be required. Be certain you have shut off the power at the fuse/CB box before you begin, and follow instructions in a wiring book such as you can get at Home Depot or perhaps a library.However, if you have never done this sort of thing (and I doubt you would you be asking if you had) it would be foolish to undertake this without some experienced help. For one thing older (ungrounded) wiring can sometimes have insulation that falls apart when it is moved… and this could lead to a fire when turning on the power. Its not worth it; so find an experinced friend to help and get a licensed electrician to inspect your work when done.


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